War pi­lot woos fu­ture wife from the air


when Johnny Cox, 95, died at a North Shore rest home.

He was born in Liver­pool in 1921 and was 18 in 1939 when Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 aged 20 and trained in Tiger Moths in South Africa. He was posted to Egypt and In­dia fly­ing Spit­fires and Hur­ri­canes be­fore he joined the RAF’s 136 Squadron, known as ‘The Wood­peck­ers’.

Johnny and Rita were mar­ried in 1945 in Pen­nard, South Wales when the war ended. Their chil­dren Denise and Gra­hame were born in Eng­land af­ter Johnny left the RAF and joined the Civil Avi­a­tion Branch of the Colo­nial Ser­vice in 1948. He was posted to Uganda in 1949. Af­ter four years he was sent to Kenya and by 1964, they were think­ing of where to re­tire.

They chose New Zealand and ar­rived af­ter a six-week voy­age. Rita’s par­ents lived in Napier and her twin sis­ter Va­lerie and her New Zealand hus­band farmed in Waikato. They bought 33 acres in Coatesville, north­west of Auck­land, and built the house which be­came the fam­ily home for 52 years. Johnny Cox is sur­vived by his wife Rita, 92, daugh­ter Denise and Peter Hughes, son Gra­hame and Janette, six grand­chil­dren and seven great grand­chil­dren.


World War II fighter pi­lot Johnny Cox in the sec­ond Spit­fire he named af­ter Rita Tonkin.

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